The Congressional story with political variations.
North Country Public Radio built its piece around the efforts of New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to restore $4.5 billion in food stamp cuts that the Senate is asking for. Gillibrand, who got support last week from a New York Times editorial, told North Country Radio that “families in NY who are already struggling will lose 90 dollars a month of food that goes on to their tables.”

The News-Gazette in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, used comments by its local Congressman, Republican Tim Johnson, as the frame for its piece. Johnson is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. The paper reported that the House version approved last week would cut spending by about $3.5 billion a year, with almost half coming from the food stamp program, and that Johnson agreed with that division. “The agriculture sector is one of the few bright spots in our economy and must be protected,” he said. “At the same time, our country is hurting. We all must sacrifice where we can.”

Meanwhile Politico posted a story that gave readers the impression that South Carolina Democrat Jim Clyburn, a mover and shaker in the House, was unhappy with food stamp cuts. “For us to be marking up this farm bill with this big a cut in SNAP is an abomination,” Clyburn said. Politico reported that Clyburn’s comments are significant both for their force and because of his special standing in the House.

The news/advocacy blend.
These are the kinds of pieces that border on advocacy, or at least they have strong political overtones. One from, whose parent is the conservative Media Research Center, focused mostly on food stamps. It reported that “nearly 80 percent of the nearly $1 trillion Farm Bill will fund an expanded food stamp program that is projected to offer increased benefits long after economists expect the economy to recover.”

The What If? story.
The Omaha World-Herald did this version, leading with the specter of farmers dumping tons of corn and wheat on the federal government at wildly inflated prices—a possibility only if the bill fails to get renewed and thus we go back to an old system last used in 1949. The World-Herald noted that this could happen “if lawmakers can’t come together to at least extend the current farm bill, which expires at the end of September.”

Some Twitter perspectives
Citizen tips abound on Twitter for a go-after-government food stamp story, though these are not always informed. One theme that emerged is that the government is not transparent about food stamps, although in truth there are a lot of statistics available. One tweeter advised that “food stamp recipients have increased 76 % under Obama. If they really stimulated the economy, don’t you think we’d be in hyper drive now?” A tweet leading back to in South Florida said there would be no more food stamp “parties,” a reference to an outreach activity that the USDA has used to help the elderly apply for stamps, but has now stopped. Such “parties” aside, many elderly Americans who are poor enough to qualify for food stamps don’t get them, for a variety of reasons. In New York City alone, 50 percent of seniors age 60 and older who are eligible don’t get the benefit, says Bobbie Sackman, a public policy specialist at the Council for Senior Centers and Services, an advocacy group.

Stats like these help to connect the dots in the budget-cutting discussion. Better yet, the voices of people who use food stamps—or farm subsidies, for that matter—would help fill in the big picture.

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.